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Car reviews - Proton - Satria - GTi 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Looks, performance, handling
Room for improvement
Harsh ride, silly stereo controls

7 Feb 2001

HOT-HATCH enthusiasts in Australia have not been as well catered for as their counterparts in Europe.

Apart from the Alfa Romeo Alfasud of the 1970s, there have been few affordable, performance-oriented hatchbacks on offer here.

The Suzuki Swift GTi was the most popular weapon of choice among hot-hatch enthusiasts during the '80s and early 90s, offering brisk performance for not a lot of money.

It appealed to enthusiastic young drivers across the country and even spawned a one-make race series that endowed it with additional "street cred".

Other contenders such as the Ford Laser TX3 Turbo, Nissan Pulsar SSS and the accomplished, if expensive, Peugeot 205GTi also made an impact, but not in the way the original Volkswagen Golf GTi did in Europe.

The local hot-hatch segment received a tremendous boost in 1999 with the launch of two modern-day pocket rockets - the Peugeot 206 GTi and Proton Satria GTi.

Both cars offer brisk performance, pin-sharp handling, aggressive styling and high levels of practicality.

Most importantly, they are well within the financial bounds of the target market - particularly the Satria which costs about as much as a mid-spec Toyota Corolla.

Built around previous generation Mitsubishi Colt underpinnings, the swift Satria has been effectively updated by a number of mechanical and cosmetic enhancements.

At its heart lies a 1.8-litre, 16-valve engine that has been "warmed over" to deliver useful outputs of 103kW at 6000rpm and 164Nm at a lofty 5500rpm.

As indicated by these figures, the engine is a bit of a top-end screamer, delivering its best when given a solid caning - which is probably what most of them will receive anyway.

Working the engine hard results in a hard-edged - although not particularly sonorous - drone being emitted by the twin chromed-tipped tailpipes.

Keeping the engine on the boil is facilitated by the snappy five-speed transmission, which makes it a pleasure to row up and down through the gears as you attack your favourite twisting stretch of tarmac.

The relative positioning of the brake and accelerator pedals makes heel-and-toe down changes a snap.

The Satria GTi cannot quite match the current Toyota Celica or Honda Integra Type R in a straight line, but it is capable of keeping a Peugeot 206 GTi honest.

Its powerplant does not feature variable-valve timing like the Celica and Integra but is still capable of spinning to 7000rpm and beyond (the redline starts at 7600rpm).

British sports car-maker Lotus - which is owned predominantly by Proton - had a hand in fettling the Satria's suspension and its contribution is discernible.

The GTi's chassis feels alive in a way that the Peugeot 206GTi does not and its steering faithfully relays what is happening at the front wheels to the fingertips of the driver.

While the Peugeot's driver feels somewhat removed from the action, the Satria feels like the proverbial extension of the body.

Every bump and undulation is relayed to the occupants, which also makes it the less refined package. Its ride is firm at best and downright harsh at worst.

Even running over undulations such as reflectors in the road results in an inordinate amount of "bump thump" being relayed to the cabin.

But not many hot-hatch buyers have a sublime ride quality as one of their primary selection criteria and Satria GTi sales are not likely to suffer as a result.

In fact, buyers are more likely to be swayed by the GTi's go-kart-like handling.

Driving it fast is easy: just pick your line around a corner, bury the throttle on the way out and the Satria will take care of the rest.

Forget about understeer and body roll - they have no place in this Proton.

The four-wheel disc brakes are also up to the mark, providing strong, fade-free stopping power time after time.

There is no doubt the Satria GTi has the performance and dynamics to satisfy most hot-hatch enthusiasts and the manufacturer has ensured its appearance reflects its capabilities.

In view of the tastes of its target market, Proton has not held back in terms of the number of cosmetic add-ons that adorn the car.

Fortunately, the look-at-me body kit makes a positive statement without overstepping the bounds of good taste.

The aggressive front spoiler is well complemented by side skirts and a prominent rear wing.

Even the bolt-on wheel arch flares do not look out of place, endowing the GTi with a squat, muscular stance. The rectangular tailpipe extensions are also an interesting touch.

The Audi-style six-spoke alloy wheels are wrapped in sticky 205/45R16 Michelin Pilots that perform an admirable job of keeping the Satria glued to the road.

Inside, hip-hugging Recaro seats, an aluminium gearknob and white-faced instruments set a distinctly sporting tone.

The fake carbon-fibre trim used on the dashboard and centre console is of questionable aesthetic value.

Overall, the cabin is comfortable and reasonably well finished and there is enough rear-seat room for two adults - provided they are not too tall.

The luggage compartment is large enough to accommodate a golf bag and buggy - provided you pull the woods out.

The Blaupunkt six-speaker stereo will disappoint audiophiles as its sound quality is only average and its silly, fiddly knobs are downright annoying.

Also irritating is the fact the engine is automatically immobilised if you do not start the car within about 30 seconds of unlocking it.

For example, if you unlock the car and then spend a minute loading the boot, you will have to re-mobilise it by again pressing the unlock button on the key fob.

These are relatively minor gripes about what is, on the whole, a very competent and rewarding car.

It offers a useful blend of gutsy performance, eye-catching looks and practicality. Back this up with a nimble, well-balanced chassis and you have a car that rates high on the fun factor scale.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing it is to overcome the lack of brand identity of the Proton marque.

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